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West Rutland Marsh - February 2018

Today’s weather did not deter seven participants in today’s West Rutland Marsh walk, our 199th consecutive walk around the 3.7-mile loop. We tallied 19 species, one more than our February average, but two less than a year ago.

Not much out of the ordinary was seen this morning. The feeders at the kiosk at the boardwalk were busy with American tree sparrows, black-capped chickadees and a lone male red-winged blackbird. Red-winged blackbirds were seen again later in the walk, keeping company with European starlings.

Cedar WaxwingA flock of cedar waxwings was a bright spot in a very overcast morning. Several of them were taking advantage of the high-bush cranberry still heavy with fruit.

A singled golden-crowned kinglet was flitting low to the ground along Whipple Hollow Road. A short time later two ruffed grouse were flushed from the shrubs on side of the road. This is the area we have seen grouse on recent walks.

Our single raptor of the day was a red-tailed hawk, sitting in a tree and harassed by American crows.

Our next walk is scheduled for Saturday, March 24, at 8 a.m.





Today’s list:


Ruffed Grouse  2
Red-tailed Hawk  1
Downy Woodpecker  3
Hairy Woodpecker  1
Pileated Woodpecker  1
Blue Jay  22
American Crow  9
Black-capped Chickadee  23
Tufted Titmouse  3
White-breasted Nuthatch  2
Golden-crowned Kinglet  1
European Starling  12
Cedar Waxwing  27
American Tree Sparrow  14
Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored)  26
Northern Cardinal  3
Red-winged Blackbird  13    
American Goldfinch  1
House Sparrow  4






Field Trip Report: Winter Regulars & Rarities

We could not have asked for a better day for our Winter Regulars and Rarities in the Champlain Valley field trip on January 20. Temperatures pushed up to 46 degrees and the light breeze made standing on the shores of Lake Champlain better than just bearable. The winter scenery was spectacular.

Spotting waterfowl is one of the goals of this annual trip. The morning kicked off at Shelburne Point which was rather quiet with several American black ducks, a few mallards and a single common goldeneye. Shelburne Farms was more productive as we added several passerine species including a flock of snow buntings, one of our winter visitors, and eastern bluebirds. A sharp-shinned hawk was also spotted (coincidence?). We saw our first common loon of the day. A total of eight loons was seen during the day.

Gadwall at Charlotte Town BeachThree gadwalls, along with horned grebes and three more common loons, were seen at Shelburne Town Beach at Meach Cove.

No doubt the best stop of the day was at Charlotte Town Beach. A group of birders was already there and had the anticipated pair of harlequin ducks staked out. Gadwall were also present at this stop including one right below us on the shoreline. There was a large raft of common goldeneye and five red-breasted mergansers. The harlequin ducks were the real treat and a life bird or state bird for many of us. The two, a male and a female, were constantly diving, but with patience everyone had a look.

Our first bald eagle was spotted at the Charlotte Ferry Landing. A very handsome pair of hooded mergansers was also present. There were nine buffleheads as well. We saw six bald eagles during the trip.

The rest of the stops along the lake included Converse Bay, Ft Cassin, Kellogg Bay, Button Bay and Arnold Bay. More eagles, common and hooded mergansers, and common loons were seen among other species. The only concentration of gulls was at Kellogg Bay with 90 plus ring-billed gulls and a handful of herring and great black-backed gulls. 

Snowy Owl at Dead Creek WMAThe other highlight for the day was seeing THREE snowy owls, one on Walker Road in Ferrisburgh, one at the goose viewing area at Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area and a third on Gage Road in Addison. The last stop had the added bonus when we heard a great horned owl hooting in the distance. This really is turning out to be another snowy owl year. On a side note, Roy Pilcher spotted one near Post Road in Rutland Town on his way to meet the field trip.

The day ended on Gage Road with a beautiful sunset and many happy birders.

Thirteen checklists were submitted for the trip. A total of 35 species was reported plus a rough-legged hawk, 16 wild turkeys and a pileated woodpecker seen along the way.

Many thanks to C. J. Frankiewicz for leading a great trip.


West Rutland Marsh - January 2018

Between the frigid temps of the past week and the upcoming rain and wintry mix, Rutland County Audubon managed to squeeze in its monthly walk around West Rutland Marsh this morning.

Nine participants tallied 20 species, two over our January average and two less than seen one year ago.

A small flock of red-winged blackbirds, reported since the first of the year, was taking advantage of the feeders near the boardwalk. Thirty-five American robins were observed at various points along the walk.

sun dogLower numbers of American tree sparrows were seen with only three along the route. Several dark-eyed juncos, being reported in higher numbers this winter throughout the state (over 1,300 on the recent Rutland Christmas Bird Count) were seen. A single white-throated sparrow was spotted.

The lone raptor of the day was a red-tailed hawk sitting in a distant tree. And the highest number of any species reported was mourning dove with 72 of those, for the most part in flocks of a dozen or more.

A bright spot, literally, in the sky this morning was not avian. A sun dog, a refraction of light caused by ice crystals appeared as we walked south along Whipple Hollow Road.  

The next marsh walk is scheduled for Saturday, February 10, at 8 a.m.

Today’s list:


Mallard  7
Red-tailed Hawk  1
Mourning Dove  72
Downy Woodpecker  3
Hairy Woodpecker  1
Pileated Woodpecker  1
Blue Jay  20
American Crow  9
Common Raven  1
Black-capped Chickadee  19
American Robin  35
European Starling  10
American Tree Sparrow  3
Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored)  13
White-throated Sparrow  1
Northern Cardinal  3
Red-winged Blackbird  7    
House Finch  1
American Goldfinch  7
House Sparrow  3




2017 Christmas Bird Count Results

Red-tailed HawkRutland ‘s Christmas Bird Count is over. All that is left to do is review the final results and learn from them. Before going on, let’s recognize our faithful leader, Roy Pilcher for his many years of chairing this event and writing this summary. Roy accepted this responsibility for many years and inspired most of the present RCAS board members and friends to keep the tradition alive. Thank you, Roy, for all you have done. We know your efforts have enriched our lives and appreciate all the help you continue to provide. Once again Roy participated in the count as a team leader.

Last year Kathleen Guinness took over organizing the count and the potluck supper held at the Proctor Library. Thanks to Kathleen for carrying on this important tradition!

To help me get started I read some of the previous summaries on our website journal. It’s shocking to read ‘weather was more like April,’ ‘the meadows were green’ and ‘ponds and rivers were free of ice.’ This year my team started its count at 7:30 with the thermometer reading minus 10. We were dressed for the weather and did our best to perform the count despite the bone-chilling weather.

This year our CBC field teams and feeder watchers counted over 7,000 individual birds representing 52 species. Considering the minus temperatures (the day’s high rose to only about 11), this is quite an accomplishment.

Here are a few points of interest starting with regular species that show up year after year.

Mallard: 178

This is down from the 25-year average of 251. Still water was completely frozen, but the small streams was partly open giving them the necessary food and shelter.

Mourning Dove: 329

Down from the average of 523. Fortunately, doves have been flocking to feeders, but perhaps some were missed due to the difficulty in counting in such extreme cold.



Red-tailed Hawk: 23

Our average. This is a positive sign since a stable raptor population may indicate stability of other species lower down on the food chain

Red-bellied Woodpecker: 14

Up from the average of 3. This species has expanded throughout the state in the past 15 years. None were reported in the early years of the count.

American Crow: 2,663

Up from an average of 1,090. Our record high was 1,809 in 2003. To get an accurate count, volunteer Tracy Busony started weeks ahead of time watching the crows as they came to roost at various locations around Rutland City. With help from a neighbor on count day they counted the whole flock, one by one.

Black-capped Chickadee: 453

Down from an average of 1,014. Sadly chickadees, our beloved feeder birds, are in decline. Hopefully some of this year’s low number can be attributed to the difficulty in counting due to the extreme cold weather.

How about some surprises?

Wilson’s Snipe: 1  

This is a surpise to many, but not to the team that leads this section of the count along Otter Creek. This is a species that migrates, but a few may stay behind if they find open water and a food supply. They are hard to spot so maybe more are around than we know.

Red-shouldered hawk: 1

Most have departed, but like the snipe, occasionally one or two can remain. Not a first for the Rutland CBC, our first in 25 years. There are more reports of over-wintering Red-shouldered Hawks in Vermont than in the past.

Eastern Bluebird: 24

Our average of 17. Many people think bluebirds always migrate, but if the food is here, some may stay (even if it is minus 10!)

American Robin: 14

This is down from an average of 23. Many folks think of the robin as our symbol of spring, but it really isn’t. The number of robins remaining is dependent on the food supply. We had just over a dozen this year year, but have recorded many more in prior CBCs.

Red Crossbill: 3

We don’t always get crossbills as they are known to follow cone crops. This is one of those years. Keep a lookout for them as winter wears on!

Snow Bunting: 162

Up from an average of 85. It’s hard to say what a normal year is because it can range from none to several hundred. They do migrate here from farther north looking for food. If you haven’t seen Snow Buntings then watch the cornfields for a burst of white wings and a swirling flock. It’s a wonderful sight.

Dark-eyed Junco: 1,352

Up from an average of 267. Many of us expected to see more juncos this year because we have had so many at our feeders. Fortunately, one of our volunteers has knowledge of them. Normally many more would be farther south in areas like Maryland. The CBC results from those areas (so far) have shown lower than normal numbers. The birds are still here so now we’ll watch to see if they pack their bags or hang around our feeders all winter.

What was missing?

There are numerous species that we see one year, but not the next. That is a normal pattern. No American Kestrels or Northern Harriers were reported. Wild Turkey numbers were way down, but they are probably still in the woods. Only one Belted Kingfisher was reported. A look around the frozen ponds and streams tells you why.

Many of us would love to see a Snowy Owl here in Rutland County, but we’re still waiting for that. They have been reported in Vermont in a few places this year. 

It is amazing we have completed this same count for 44 years in spite of the holiday rush. The data is important. One year may not tell us anything, but the sum of many years is valuable information. That is why we eBird all of our sightings year-round as well as participate in as many citizen science projects we can. We are always looking for volunteers to join our teams, do a feeder watch at home or participate in various projects. Our Christmas Bird Count data will be available in a final form within a few weeks on the National Audubon web site so you can explore it further. If you have any questions please let us know by email from birding @rutlandcountyaudubon.org.




Happy New Year from RCAS!

Eastern BluebirdsHappy New Year from RCAS! Want to see more birds in 2018 or know more about them? Here are some resolutions you can make for better birding and a better birding world this year. It'll beat a diet or cleaning out the garage any day.

eBird! Make it a regular part of your birding experience. Your sightings really DO matter – to scientists, conservationists and fellow birders, but ONLY if you submit them to eBird. Checklists can be from your backyard, a lunch break walk, one of our RCAS hotspots or your favorite vacation spot. Birds are everywhere and the more we know about them, the more we can help them. Click here to get started. 

Bird local! There are plenty of places to see birds right here in Rutland County. To get started, check out our list of birding hotspots here. Spots such as the Cadwell Loop in Pittsford, Pine Hill Park in Rutland City or Aitken State Forest in Mendon are great in for snowshoeing and birding. No need to wait for spring!

Give to the birds! Donate to a conservation organization (we can think of one!). Drink shade-grown coffee. Take a kid birding. Write to your representatives about issues that concern the environment. Find one more thing that can be recycled. Plant a native shrub or build a brush pile. The list is endless if you think about it.

Keep learning! RCAS has a list of resources right here on the website. Want to read about birds? Click here. Do you want to know what birds occur in Vermont? Click here

Sing! Sing! Sing! Learn ten new bird songs this year. Birding by ear greatly enhances your birding experience. With all the resources available now, it’s easy. Download a birding app, buy a CD or listen to birds at the National Audubon or Cornell Lab of Ornithology online bird guides. Then go out and practice what you’ve learned. Nothing helps you remember a bird song than watching one sing. Really.

Bird with friends!. Don’t have any birding buddies? Join RCAS on a West Rutland Marsh walk or other field trips. Check out our list of upcoming events. Our next events are are the monthly walk around West Rutland Marsh on January 11 and Winter Regulars & Rarities in the Champlain Valley on January 20.   

Learn more! What’s your favorite bird? Resolve to know more about it – what does it eat, what does its nest look like, where does it go when it migrates, what is its current conservation status? Between the library and all the resources on the internet, it’s easy to find out.

Volunteer! RCAS can always use more help. Contact us at birding@rutlandcountyaudubon.org or join us at one of our events. We promise it will be a lot of fun.